Cartier-Bresson: What's the Story? the Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson Are Now Regarded as Great Art, but in the Early Part of His Career, He Was Producing Tough Photojournalis M, Covering Everything from Gandhi's Funeral to the New Kennedy Administration. as an Exhibition Opens at the V&A to Mark His 90th Birthday, Colin Jacobson Considers This Forgotten Legacy
Jacobson, Colin, The Independent (London, England)
For anyone deeply rooted in the reportage tradition of photography, writing about Henri Cartier-Bresson is daunting. It's a bit like suggesting to a priest that he should review the Bible. How do you bring yourself to abandon a sense of awe and admiration?
Fortunately, the great man has offered timid souls a let-out clause. Asked in a recent television documentary for his reaction to claims that he was the greatest photographer of the 20th century, he first whispered to the interviewer and then guffawed with relish to the camera, "Bullshit".
This makes it easier to declare that not all of Cartier- Bresson's photographs are masterpieces. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, some of his images seem trite and ordinary, until we remember just how innovative he was: the stylistic familiarity we detect is the result of so many people trying to copy his approach. It is the sheer range and diversity of Cartier-Bresson's work which is extraordinary: news pictures, posed pictures, abstract pictures, caught moments, people playing to the camera, tough, edgy pictures, soft and lyrical pictures. It's as though he is trying to catch us off-guard, to unsettle our preconceptions, and at the same time to prevent himself from getting bored. Twenty five years after Cartier-Bresson stopped taking photographs, there appears to be a move in contemporary photo- criticism to claim his photography for the world of art and deny that he was ever a photojournalist. Cartier- Bresson himself is partly to blame for this. By extracting individual images from the context of the stories they belonged to, and re-presenting them in exhibitions and books, he has allowed himself to become best known as a photographer who produces single images. Cartier-Bresson - co-founder in 1947 of the celebrated Magnum photographic agency - has also mischievously contributed to the undermining of his own legend. In 1974, he described himself as "a very bad reporter and photojournalist". While in 1990 he denied he had ever been a photojournalist or had produced reportage stories: "They want to put clothes on me which don't fit." All this denial sits uneasily with his most celebrated writing on photography, the English preface to his highly influential 1952 collection, The Decisive Moment. Cartier-Bresson strongly stressed the need to communicate to a mass audience: "We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in a hurry, a world weighed down with preoccupations, prone to cacophony, and full of beings with a hunger for information, and needing the companionship of images." We are reminded of this Bresson, the photojournalist, in a new exhibition of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Entitled "Elsewhere: Photographs from the Americas and Asia", it is the last of four major events in Britain to mark his 90th birthday last August. The pictures have been selected by the photographer, in collaboration with Mark Haworth- Booth, curator of photographs at the V&A. Fifty prints will be on show, taken from a collection of 390 archive prints purchased by the museum in 1978 from Cartier-Bresson himself. What could be a more classic example of professional photojournalism than Cartier-Bresson's coverage of Gandhi's funeral in India in 1948? Cartier-Bresson worked on 50 different events in the three days of the mourning, shooting 30 rolls of film, capturing every possible angle. American academic Claude Cookman, from the University of Indiana, interviewed the photographer in the Spring 1998 edition of History of Photography. "Many of his individual pictures can function as art, but he did not approach Gandhi's funeral with aesthetics in mind. Art photographers do not wade through crowds of a million and a half people. They do not demonstrate the strength and stamina that Cartier-Bresson exhibited in fighting his way to the head of Gandhi's funeral pyre," …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Cartier-Bresson: What's the Story? the Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson Are Now Regarded as Great Art, but in the Early Part of His Career, He Was Producing Tough Photojournalis M, Covering Everything from Gandhi's Funeral to the New Kennedy Administration. as an Exhibition Opens at the V&A to Mark His 90th Birthday, Colin Jacobson Considers This Forgotten Legacy. Contributors: Jacobson, Colin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 21, 1998. Page number: 38. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.